Why is this a non-Nascar guide? Because while several of the top teams are based in Charlotte, including Hendrick and our current favorite, Juan Pablo Montoya at Chip Ganassi Racing, there’s only one more race in town this year (on October 13), and it gets a little boring taking tours of garages. I mean, we have a lot of respect for the guys working in those garages - don’t get us wrong - but it’s not as if you can see the real stuff on a tour anyway. Besides, Charlotte for us is about good food and finding a good party (preferably with local favorite Benji Hughes playing). So let’s spend a few hours in Charlotte without thinking about racing.
First, it’s about food. If you like your food, your plate, and your floor dirty, then the Beef & Bottle is your choice. This restaurant (we’ve heard some close friends and family refer to it as a disgusting crap-hole, while some others really can’t get enough) is a steakhouse with a lot of very cheap drinks. It’s kind of the food version of a lot of bars that the locals seem to love, which are also dirty and cantankerous, including luminaries such as The Thirsty Beaver and Tommy’s.
If you’re into less-dirty, more-upscale dining, we love Lulu’s (especially their brunch, although we lament the long-ago passing of their duck confit hash), Customshop’s seasonal menu and the excellent Indian food at Copper. For something a little lower-key, we know it’s cheesy (literally), but we think you can’t miss the Penguin Drive-In.
Charlotte is a city that’s almost itching to prove that there’s more to it than banking and NASCAR. One of the best examples of this is the U.S. National Whitewater Center, which has built the country’s largest recirculating whitewater river in Charlotte. You know, you’re in this relatively big city that’s a long way from the mountains in Asheville and surfing on the Outer Banks, and they just built a river. It’s kind of a can’t-miss activity in this town. Another one we love is the Lazy 5 Ranch, which is a safari (complete with giraffes, rhinos and kangaroos) about 45 minutes from the city center. They give you a giant bucket of feed and, as you drive around, exotic animals keep coming up to you to eat. Alright, so it’s not quite ‘wild,’ and last time we were there, a lot of animals took a dump on our car, but it was still a lot of fun!
Finally, you’ll want to find a place to stay. While we’ve always found people in Charlotte to be super-nice and always willing to let us crash on their couch or in their spare room (yes, people in Charlotte can all afford space. Eat your heart out, 400-square-foot studio owners in New York), we think it’s better to stay in a hotel. Because this is a business center, you have some really high-end hotels, such as the Ritz-Carlton, which is really nice and, unless you have unlimited money, way expensive for this part of the world. We like the Ballantyne more, both for it’s setting and the bang for the buck. And if you prefer a smaller place (like us), then your best bet (if there’s not a wedding there, which there usually is) is Victorian Villa. Duke Mansion is a distant runner-up for us, as it feels more like a conference facility (which is really is) than a B&B.
Well, that was easy! There’s a lot to do in Charlotte!